Trova il tuo prossimo libro preferito

Abbonati oggi e leggi gratis per 30 giorni
Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe

Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe

Leggi anteprima

Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe

619 pagine
7 ore
Oct 15, 2015


The Red Lake Nation has a unique and deeply important history. Unlike every other reservation in Minnesota, Red Lake holds its land in common—and, consequently, the tribe retains its entire reservation land base. The people of Red Lake developed the first modern indigenous democratic governance system in the United States, decades before any other tribe, but they also maintained their system of hereditary chiefs. The tribe never surrendered to state jurisdiction over crimes committed on its reservation. The reservation is also home to the highest number of Ojibwe-speaking people in the state.

Warrior Nation covers four centuries of the Red Lake Nation's forceful and assertive tenure on its land. Ojibwe historian and linguist Anton Treuer conducted oral histories with elders across the Red Lake reservation, learning the stories carried by the people. And the Red Lake band has, for the first time, made available its archival collections, including the personal papers of Peter Graves, the brilliant political strategist and tribal leader of the first half of the twentieth century, which tell a startling story about the negotiations over reservation boundaries.

This fascinating history offers not only a chronicle of the Red Lake Nation but also a compelling perspective on a difficult piece of U.S. history.
Oct 15, 2015

Informazioni sull'autore

Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, is the author of Ojibwe in Minnesota and several books on the Ojibwe language. He is also the editor of Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language.

Correlato a Warrior Nation

Libri correlati
Articoli correlati

Anteprima del libro

Warrior Nation - Anton Treuer




A History

of the

Red Lake



Text © 2015 by Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Other materials © by the Minnesota Historical Society. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, write to the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul, MN 55102–1906.

Boundaries depicted in the maps used in this book do not represent the legal position of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians nor limit any future claims or disputes relating to boundaries.

The Minnesota Historical Society Press is a member of the Association of American University Presses.

Manufactured in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48–1984.

International Standard Book Number

ISBN: 978–0-87351–963–2 (paper)

ISBN: 978-0–87351–968–7 (e-book)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Treuer, Anton.

Warrior nation : a history of the Red Lake Ojibwe / Anton Treuer.

    pages cm

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 978-0-87351-963-2 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-87351-968-7 (ebook)

1. Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Minnesota—History. 2. Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Minnesota—Politics and government. 3. Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Minnesota—Biography. 4. Ojibwa Indians—Government relations. 5. Red Lake Indian Reservation (Minn.)—History. 6. Red Lake Indian Reservation (Minn.)—Biography. I. Title. II. Title: History of the Red Lake Ojibwe.

E99.C6T76 2015



This and other Minnesota Historical Society Press books are available from popular e-book vendors.

Warrior Nation was designed and set in type by Judy Gilats. The text face is Cardea and the display faces are Railroad Gothic and Benton Sans.

For Thomas J. Stillday and Anna C. Gibbs, who bridged the knowledge of Leonard Hawk, Dan Raincloud, Nodin Wind, and the ancient ones before them to the present generation and dedicated their lives to ensuring the future vitality and legacy of Red Lake ceremonial life for the benefit of Ojibwe people everywhere.

For my son, Elias Treuer—the blood of chiefs—with high hopes that you can study the amazing accomplishments of the great political and spiritual leaders of our people and use those lessons to help make the world a better place.

And for Justin Beaulieu, Samuel Strong, Vincent Staples-Graves, Marguerite Secola, Marcus Tyler, Harvey Roy III, Elizabeth Strong, Rose Barrett, Bryanna Grimes, Don Kingbird, Donovan Sather, Delana Smith, Nate Taylor, Stacey Thunder, Wes May, Roger Spanky White, Liz White, Tito Ybarra, and all the other young citizens of Red Lake who have already devoted so much of their energy to the betterment of the Red Lake people. The political patrimony, culture, and language of this incredible native nation are already in your hands. I believe in it. And I believe in you.


Author’s Note

Battle River

1 THE SPARK White Thunderbird and the Seven Clans

2 THE STRATEGIST Moose Dung and the Old Crossing Treaty

3 THE NATION BUILDER He Who Is Spoken To and the Nelson Act

4 THE UNITER Nodin Wind and the War on Culture

5 THE REFORMER Peter Graves and the Modernization of Red Lake Politics

6 THE REVOLUTIONARY Roger Jourdain and Self-Determination

7 THE DREAMER Anna Gibbs and Red Lake Shaping Indian Country


Appendix 1 When the Dakota Ruled Red Lake

Appendix 2 Red Lake Reservation Post Offices

Appendix 3 Red Lake Place-Names

Appendix 4 Red Lake Hereditary Chiefs: Succession Lines


Research Notes and Bibliography

Author’s Note

Warrior Nation is a political history of Red Lake. It is organized in seven main chapters, each a biography of an important Red Lake leader at a different point in time. Red Lake had many important historical figures, and telling Red Lake’s history through these leaders is not intended to diminish any others. Each biographical feature should be seen not as the most important person of his or her time, but as a window into the evolving political culture of the Red Lake nation. This work tries to include the contributions of women at Red Lake even though it is a political history and, until recently, Red Lake’s political leaders were primarily men. This effort is addressed in the narrative directly and through the chapter on Anna Gibbs. The research process, available historical resources, and the direct participation of Red Lake’s tribal council in this project also shaped the work. A more thorough discussion of these issues prefaces the bibliography.


Battle River

Ojibwe runners sprinted through the village near Ponemah Point on the north shore of Lower Red Lake with the call to arms. Dakota warriors were on the east shore of the lake several miles away, and they were prepared to kill or drive out all of the Ojibwe in the region. They had already killed one Ojibwe trapper and wounded another. Ojibwe warriors grabbed their war clubs, spears, and bows. It was about 1760, and a couple of men even had muskets, obtained in trade with the French at Lake Superior. The Ojibwe sallied forth by the hundreds, gathering strength from scattered wigwams and settlements along the north shore of the lake as they sped toward their enemy, most by canoe and others on foot, eager to defend their homes and families. They approached the mouth of a small river, known at the time simply as Zaagiing (the outlet), and found hundreds of Dakota massing on the banks of the river, ready to fight.¹

The Ojibwe had just established a village at the narrows between Upper and Lower Red Lakes over the preceding year. The area would later be called Ponemah Point (Obaashiing), and a village and population center five miles to the east would be known as both Cross Lake (Aazhooding) and Ponemah. The Ponemah Ojibwe were part of a large front of Ojibwe that had attacked the Dakota with many hundreds of warriors and had driven them from their homes. The late Fannie Johns (Ogimaakwe, or Queen) from Red Lake said that when the Ojibwe first settled there Ponemah was the only Ojibwe settlement at Red Lake and the Dakota still lived in villages along the south shore. They could see the distant smoke from one another’s fires every day. The Dakota sent numerous scouts to Ponemah to evaluate their enemy’s strength and determine the best time and place to attack. Johns said there were three Ojibwe medicine men in Ponemah who performed a ceremony with hand drums, fire, and medicine to obscure the village and create an illusion of overpowering numbers to deter Dakota attacks. She said the effect was so profound that hundreds of Dakota abandoned the idea of driving the Ojibwe out of Ponemah and voluntarily packed up their families to move west where hunting was easier and their families would be free from the danger of continued warfare. When the Dakota who stayed finally rallied their warriors to drive the Ojibwe out, their numbers were already greatly reduced from the voluntary relocation of many Dakota families.²

The Ojibwe occupation of Ponemah came as part of a much larger territorial advance where the Ojibwe displaced the Dakota from their villages in many places at Leech Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, and the area surrounding Upper and Lower Red Lake. In Ponemah, the Ojibwe immediately built wigwams and palisades, bringing their children and elders there to live, with full knowledge that the Dakota would come back to challenge the Ojibwe claim to the land. Today some people marvel at the bravery and audacity of the territorial claim of the Ojibwe and their apparent reckless willingness to risk the lives of their entire families to make Red Lake their home. This was due in part to the fact that the Ojibwe warriors were also full-time providers, and there was no way to leave dependents behind in cases of war or they would surely starve. But the Ojibwe were also warriors. They had fought their way west for generations—long before European contact. From their original homeland on the Atlantic Coast, the Ojibwe had forayed west through the eastern and central Great Lakes for more than fifteen hundred years. The population density on the East Coast was very high, and food shortages caused by occasional droughts sometimes created intense conflict between the numerous indigenous groups there over the land. As the Ojibwe defended themselves from the Iroquois Confederacy and other tribes in the east, prophets appeared among them with a series of visions and a powerful message to move west to the land where food grows on water. This clear reference to wild rice is a big part of what brought the Ojibwe through the Great Lakes to Red Lake.³

The movement of the people was driven by deeply held spiritual belief, a practical understanding of land and food resources, and conflict in the east. Their path to Red Lake was two thousand miles long, traversed by birchbark canoe, and occurred over fifteen hundred years. New villages were established along the way, new friendships with other tribes were forged, and sometimes new enemies were made of those who occupied the land before them. The migration itself played a significant role in the Ojibwe’s emergence as a distinct people, different from their cousins the Ottawa and Potawatomi. At one time those tribes, like all tribes in the Algonquian language family, were the same people. But the geographic separation of the groups and different historical experiences led their cultures and even their languages to diverge.

The Ojibwe split into two groups at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. One went north of Lake Superior, the other south. As the two groups converged again west of the big lake, dialect differences in their shared language were already cemented. Red Lake was dominated by people who took the north route. Mille Lacs and later White Earth were dominated by those who went south. Leech Lake was settled by both groups. The journey was fraught with danger and conflict. Those who survived—the ones who made it to Red Lake—had honed exceptional skills as hunters, trappers, fishermen, rice harvesters, canoe travelers, and warriors.

Today the Ojibwe and Dakota are fast friends. In the 1860s, the Dakota gave the Ojibwe a series of ceremonial drums as peace offerings to cement friendship and goodwill between the tribes. Those drums remain a vibrant and vital part of the modern Ojibwe ceremonial experience today. People from both tribes regularly attend each other’s powwows, ceremonies, and social and political functions. The Mdewakanton Dakota from Shakopee, Minnesota, in particular have been very generous with the Ojibwe, especially those at Red Lake—funding casino expansions, a skate park, and a new Boys and Girls Club. Most Ojibwe people now feel that it was folly to make war on their brothers in arms because the Ojibwe and Dakota share much common history, common struggle against political, economic, and social injustice, and even common bloodlines.

The Ojibwe did not come to colonize the Dakota—tribal territorial conflict was nothing akin to American Manifest Destiny. But with hindsight, we know that the Ojibwe dispossessed the Dakota—a cold, calculated, violent wrong. The Dakota committed the same wrong on the Gros Ventre, Arikara, Hidatsa, and Cheyenne who likely occupied Red Lake before them, even though many details of exactly how and when that happened have been swallowed by the clear, icy waters of the lake itself. But in the minds of the people at the time it must have seemed entirely different. The Dakota saw the Ojibwe as invaders. But the Ojibwe saw the Dakota the same way. They too were defending small children, villages, and lifeways.

As the Ojibwe warriors descended on the Dakota host, they were filled with a sense of purpose. Their spiritual prophets had told them to move here. They had been fulfilling that prophecy through generations of arduous travel and conflict. As they neared the completion of that quest, they must have seen their actions as justified: they were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do, as their ancestors had done for many generations.

Like an angry bear who knew the woods belonged to her, fearing for her cubs, the Ojibwe rushed the battlefield. Most tribal battles were over in a matter of minutes, with minimal casualties and a hasty retreat by the outmatched party. But this battle raged on all day. The Dakota were determined to reclaim their rightful home. The Ojibwe were determined to protect theirs. Arrows, spears, and occasional musket fire rained down on the Dakota at first, but most of the violence was hand-to-hand, with war clubs. Casualties were staggering on both sides. The Dakota gave no ground and offered no retreat. The Ojibwe gave no quarter. As more and more Ojibwe descended on the scene, they enveloped the Dakota and overwhelmed them. Some of the Dakota escaped and fled to the Sandy River outlet in wooden dugout canoes. The Ponemah warriors pursued them around the lake in faster birchbark canoes and overtook them at the outlet. No Dakota surrendered and none were spared.

As the Ojibwe regrouped at Battle River and examined the battlefield, they must have been more shocked and horrified than exultant at their victory. Many Ojibwe were wounded. All the survivors were completely exhausted. Hundreds of Ojibwe and Dakota lay dead, their tribal identities now indiscernible. Their blood ran together so thickly that the entire river was filled with their life fluids. The water turned scarlet and streamed forth into the lake in a giant bright red plume.

Nothing would be the same again. Although the Dakota came back to Red Lake in small war parties for many more years, they could never again muster the force necessary to retake Red Lake. The sovereignty and territorial claim of the Ojibwe to the lake and the land were secured from then on. Even the names of places were forever altered. The river outlet was no longer called Zaagiing (the outlet), but Gaa-danapananiding (the place of slaughter). It was the permanent resting place for many of the bravest Dakota and Ojibwe warriors of the time. In English, the river would be called Battle River. Standing on its bloody banks, the Red Lake warriors watched the entire lake change color as the red water streamed forth, and the meaning of the Ojibwe name for the lake itself changed. The lake had always been called Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga’igan by the Ojibwe, meaning the lake with the red body of water, in reference to the tannins from the tamarack trees that colored many of the tributaries in the watershed red, in stark contrast to the crystal-clear body of lake water. The name described the flow of the red creeks into the lake. But after the battle, as the blood of two nations coursed into the lake, the description took on a new and deeper meaning, defined by this seminal historical event. In English, it is known simply as Red Lake.

Over the next two hundred years the Red Lake Ojibwe continued to demonstrate exceptional leadership and resilience—avoiding allotment of their lands and state government intrusions into their sovereignty, establishing a modern representative tribal government forty years before any other tribe in the United States while preserving the respected positions of their traditional chiefs, developing a reservation economy that supported traditional fish harvesting and lifeways, and maintaining the highest tribal language fluency rate in the Great Lakes region and the Northern Plains. The lake and the people who live there are imbued with an amazing history—deeper than anyone might imagine.

Red Lake reservation and traditional territory. Matt Kania, Map Hero.



White Thunderbird and the Seven Clans

They built a high embankment of earth, for defence, around their lodges, and took every means in their power to escape the notice of the Ojibways—even discarding the use of the gun on account of its loud report, and using the primitive bow and arrows.

WILLIAM WARREN, on the secret Dakota village at what would become Thief River Falls

White Thunderbird

The Ojibwe (Chippewa) at Red Lake grew in numbers and solidified their control over the land after the Battle River fight, keeping a constant eye on the horizon. By 1770, the Dakota could no longer challenge Ojibwe ownership of Red Lake, but they could still make them pay for taking the land. One day a group of warriors encountered a small Dakota war party somewhere in the vicinity of Mahnomen Creek by the northeast shore of Lower Red Lake. They used eagle bone whistles, war whoops, and runners to call for reinforcements, and chased the Dakota on land and by canoe. After driving them off, the Ojibwe were returning to their daily activities when one of the warriors discovered a young Dakota boy crouched down in the brush where the Dakota war party had originally been hiding. The boy was too small to successfully run away from grown men, and now he was without family or community. In tribal warfare, anyone could be an honorable target—elders or children, women or men. Ponemah warriors were seasoned and tough, but not heartless. They saw an innocent brown face and, taking pity on the young boy, one of the warriors took him as a captive, but made him his son.¹

The adoption of child war captives was not unique to Red Lake. In 1824, William H. Keating observed that throughout Ojibwe country, The children are generally spared and incorporated into families, where they frequently meet with tolerably good treatment. But this time the impact was greater than anyone could have foreseen.²

The boy was given an Ojibwe name—White Thunderbird (Waabi-bines). He was raised as an Ojibwe and lived the rest of his years in the Red Lake village of Ponemah, taking an Ojibwe wife and having children. Today his descendants make up one of the largest family groups at Red Lake—including the Greenleaf, Hawk, Oakgrove, and Whitefeather families—and among them are some of Red Lake’s most prominent leaders, including hereditary chiefs, spiritual leaders, and elected tribal chairmen. The adoption of this Dakota boy, this simple act of kindness, both enabled and symbolized a powerful change in the cultural and political configuration of the Ojibwe people at Red Lake.

The Ojibwe families at Red Lake grew stronger every year after the Battle River fight. The primary villages at Warroad, Ponemah, Redby, and Red Lake swelled with new children. New people migrated to Red Lake as well. Among them was Sweet Leaf (Wiishkoobag), veteran of an Ojibwe–Dakota battle at Crow Wing in 1768 and chief at Leech Lake for several years afterward. He quickly rose to prominence at Red Lake. Sweet Leaf’s acceptance as a leader at Red Lake, like White Thunderbird’s, showed Red Lake’s readily evolving and adaptable political culture.

Wild rice, game, berries, and fish were abundant throughout the region. Red Lake warriors ranged freely for a hundred miles in all directions, pressing their territorial claims, protecting their people, hunting, trapping, and fishing. Small villages and family enclaves were established at present-day Warren, Minnesota, then at Pembina, North Dakota, and eventually along the Red River of the North. By 1800, some groups had established new villages at Roseau River, Manitoba, and soon after that at Turtle Mountain, North Dakota. Even today those Ojibwe communities claim Red Lake as their motherland.³

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, more Ojibwe and even a few Ottawa and Cree families came from all over the Great Lakes to settle and live at Red Lake. The newcomers brought some new ideas and even some different ways of expressing them. The fabric of social life and political function at Red Lake was evolving, even while the seasons and cycle of the traditional harvest economy remained steadfast. Some kinds of change were obvious, such as the creation of a new Ojibwe political nexus for the people at Red Lake. Other kinds of change, such as language and culture variation, are harder to identify. What made the Red Lake Ojibwe different from the Leech Lake Ojibwe and other communities in the same language group was more than physical location. Language, culture, customs, natural-resource harvest practices, political traditions, and relations with other tribes morphed into something entirely new. This metamorphosis was an ongoing process long before nonnative people came to the region or made an effort to change native people. The Red Lake Ojibwe were an ancient people, but they were something new at the same time. The contrast between cultural continuity and change was a defining feature in the emergence of the Red Lake Ojibwe as a distinct group, and it remains so today.

The Battle River fight cemented Ojibwe control of Red Lake in 1760. But the things that made the Red Lake Ojibwe such a distinct and dynamic people had been developing for fifteen hundred years before their occupation of northwestern Minnesota. The structure of chieftainship, the clan system, the unique positions of spiritual leaders, the role of women in society, and the relationships between the Ojibwe and the Dakota, the French, the British, and eventually the Americans all served to separate and distinguish the people of Red Lake from other Ojibwe communities and tribes. Those distinctions are what strengthened the people at Red Lake and enabled them to build a small collection of warriors and their families into one of the most powerful tribal nations in North America.

The Seven Clans

In 1989, Johnson Loud was among hundreds who attended the one hundredth anniversary commemoration of the 1889 Nelson Act, an act of the U.S. Congress and subsequent negotiation with Red Lake tribal chiefs that ceded vast tracts of Red Lake land and converted the remaining unceded Red Lake lands into a reservation. Loud was more than a Red Lake band member; he was a student of his tribe’s history and leadership and a gifted artist. He had been commissioned to develop a new symbol for the Red Lake Nation, one that resonated with its rich history, tradition, and continued sovereignty. That symbol was officially adopted by the Red Lake government as its flag and seal in 1989.

When Loud developed the Red Lake tribal flag, he studied clan representation on the reservation. Although he did not include every clan at Red Lake on the flag, he did include the clans of all hereditary chiefs and the largest and most common ones represented among the tribal population. Seven original Red Lake clans were put on the flag: bear (makwa), turtle (mikinaak), bullhead (owaazisii), otter (nigig), eagle (migizi), marten (waabizheshi), and kingfisher (ogiishkimanisii).

Formally acknowledging these seven clans as primary symbols on the Red Lake Nation flag said a great deal about the culture, government, and history of Red Lake. Although some of the research is contradictory, scholars who have studied Ojibwe clans all agree on one thing: the traditional Ojibwe leadership clans were loon (maang) and crane (ajijaak). Chieftainship was passed down hereditarily through the father’s side, and these two clans dominated all of the civil chieftainships in Ojibwe country. Red Lake had more than a dozen hereditary chiefs in 1989. Their lineage could be traced all the way back to the Ojibwe settlement of Red Lake. But not one of them was from the loon or crane clans.

The people of Red Lake are quintessentially Ojibwe, as reflected in their language, culture, and customs. Red Lake has one of the most intact chieftainship traditions of all Ojibwe communities anywhere. Many tribes do not know or keep records of important genealogical information, and almost none use that information to determine leadership responsibilities or for other political purposes (other than tribal enrollment). But at Red Lake, genealogy is the primary determining factor in civil chieftainship even today. And though Red Lake also has adopted a democratic process for electing tribal representatives and the tribal chair, the chiefs are determined by heredity and participate in all political functions of the tribal council today as hereditary civil chiefs.

The lack of traditional Ojibwe leadership clans among the Red Lake chieftainship reflects a dynamic that was introduced in the late 1700s. To understand it, we return again to the Dakota boy adopted and raised as an Ojibwe—White Thunderbird.

When White Thunderbird was captured and adopted he was old enough to know who he was. He was Dakota, and the Dakota had a complicated kin system that established relationships and obligations throughout one’s extended family. The Dakota also had a clan system like their Siouan cousins the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and most tribes in North America. Since the 1900s, the Dakota clan system has become defunct—a thread pulled from their cultural tapestry that is no longer recoverable. Their kin system remains intact, as do many other critical features of Dakota culture, but clan is no more.

All of this becomes very important in understanding Red Lake chiefs, clans, and governance today. When White Thunderbird was adopted, the adopting family had a choice: they could formally adopt White Thunderbird into the clan of the family patriarch, or they could adopt him without formally changing his clan. They chose the latter. As a result, even though White Thunderbird was adopted as an Ojibwe he retained his Dakota clan, becoming the first Ojibwe person at Red Lake from the kingfisher clan. Even today his clan is emblazoned on the Red Lake Nation flag and on Red Lake Nation automobile license plates, and his clan is one of the most widely represented at Red Lake. In addition, as people from Red Lake established new villages at Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, and Roseau River, Manitoba, members of the kingfisher clan were among the settlers of the new Ojibwe communities there. Today the kingfisher clan is common at Red Lake, Roseau River, and Turtle Mountain, rare almost everywhere else, and virtually unheard of in the eastern reaches of Ojibwe country.

White Thunderbird introduced the kingfisher clan to Red Lake. But his story was not completely anomalous. The wolf clan was also introduced to the Ojibwe through Dakota paternity. More common among the St. Croix, Mille Lacs, and White Earth bands, the wolf clan is also a large and important clan in Ojibwe culture. The Dakota exerted a profound influence and sparked many transformations in Ojibwe culture. The spiritual and political impacts reverberate to this day.

Clans are vital to Ojibwe identity today, and in the 1700s they were even more important. The nature of clans underwent significant changes, but many clan taboos and protocols were established early on and remain unchanged. Clan was central to Ojibwe spirituality. Clan protocol structured marriage and village life. Marriage between people of the same clan was one of the strongest taboos in Ojibwe culture and people could be killed for violating it.

Clans were a strictly patrilineal birthright and established a spiritual connection for the clan member with an animal, bird, or water creature. Even when Ojibwe married non-Indians, the patrilineal structure of the clan system was not altered. Instead, as a birthright (not a ceremonial adoption), children with a nonnative father were automatically adopted into an existing clan. The eagle clan was the adopting clan at Red Lake. As Red Lake grew with new migrants from other parts of Ojibwe country and new additions like White Thunderbird, the number of clans there grew to more than twenty. While some Ojibwe communities struggled with cultural retention in the face of missionary activity, clans stayed strong at Red Lake regardless of the people’s changing faith traditions.¹⁰

Red Lake was settled by warriors, and warrior clans dominate the membership of Red Lake even today, especially marten and bear. Because the Red Lake warrior clans found themselves occupying new territory without significant representation from the traditional chief clans, political duties had to be assumed by members of other clans.¹¹

In 1850, Ojibwe missionary George Copway wrote: The rulers of the Ojibways were inheritors of the power they held. However, when new country was conquered, or new dominions annexed, the first rulers were elected to their offices. Afterwards, the descendants of these elected chiefs ruled the nation, or tribe, and thus power became hereditary. Explorers Henry Schoolcraft, James Duane Doty, and Charles Christopher Trowbridge concur. In 1820, Trowbridge wrote:

The Chieftainship descends from father to son, and the women are always excluded, so that the line becomes extinct on the death of the last male of the old line. When this happens to be the case (but I believe it seldom happens), the vacancy is filled by election of the man most valiant, brave and powerful, or the most celebrated for wisdom and eloquence; and he inherits the title of chief together with all the honors of the last in power. This practice is never deviated from except by some daring fellow, who usurping the authority holds the tribe in awe by his ferocity or the influence of numerous relatives devoted to his interest. Such a one however is soon disposed of by his enemies.¹²

The first chiefs at Red Lake were elected, but the succession of chieftainship lines afterward remained for the most part hereditary, passed on from father to son, much as it had been for centuries. The initial election of chiefs at Red Lake meant that hereditary leadership rights were dispersed among various warrior clans, primarily bear, marten, and kingfisher. Ironically, Dakota bloodlines and clans were well represented among the Ojibwe warriors and chiefs at Red Lake—including those who continued to fight and dispossess the Dakota.¹³

The clans represented when chiefs were originally elected at Red Lake retained their leadership positions even when new waves of Ojibwe people from other clans settled there. The overwhelming majority of Red Lake Ojibwe today are of the bear, eagle, marten, bullhead, kingfisher, and turtle clans. Other clans include sturgeon (name) and caribou (adik). Not all are represented on the tribal flag. Marriage with people from other tribal communities accounts for most of the expanding clan representation at Red Lake today.¹⁴

At Red Lake many different people led in war, ceremony, and politics. Red Lakers were warriors. There were no formal military leaders. Nobody ever told someone else to fight or told others to follow. When tough, successful warriors went off to war, less-experienced warriors went with them. When Red Lake was attacked, everyone fought back. In some Ojibwe communities, such as Mille Lacs, there were designated head warriors or war chiefs, but not at Red Lake. At Red Lake, people were inspired not by position, but by action.¹⁵

Religious leadership at Red Lake was similar to military leadership in many ways. Nobody was obligated to lead and nobody had to follow. People went to successful healers and stayed away from those who did not have the gift. They went to ceremonies with people they trusted and could not be bothered with anyone else. Spiritual leaders did teach what they knew to the people closest to them, and there were some ceremonial leadership dynasties at Red Lake, especially in Ponemah. But spiritual leaders, like military ones, had to prove their worth.

Political leadership was a hereditary birthright. But here too, leaders had to earn their position. If a hereditary chief tried to control anyone or tell people what to do, he was shunned, or people would move a little farther down the lakeshore, or to a different village. If a chief upset or offended a large family, they would move to a new area, start a new village, and elect a new chief. This happened many times at Red Lake, and the base of hereditary chiefs grew and diversified (by family and clan) as the tribe expanded throughout northwestern Minnesota.

White Thunderbird was born a Dakota, raised Ojibwe, and rose to a position of respect in Ponemah, eventually becoming one of the first elected chiefs at Miquam Bay (Mikwami-wiikwedong, or Ice Bay), southeast of Ponemah. Cultural change at Red Lake made possible his rise in status. Cultural continuity enabled him to pass not just the kingfisher clan, but also his leadership position, on to his son.

The White Sand Dunes

They call it the White Sand Dunes (Chi-waasadaawangideg). It is the most exposed and windward part of Red Lake. Prevailing northwest winds whip at the trees and pound surf against the shore. In the winter, snowdrifts sometimes reach twenty feet in height because all the snow on the lake is piled up on the southeast shore, burying the road. In the spring, ice heaves topple trees and push the earth into large, sandy ridges. The dunes closest to the water, devoid of plants and covered in translucent sand, glow white as they reflect sunlight and are visible from twelve miles across the lake.¹⁶

When the Dakota lived at Red Lake, they buried their dead at the White Sand Dunes in large earthen mounds, still discernible among the natural ridges farthest from the shore, now topped with maple and ash trees. The Ojibwe never adopted mound burials at Red Lake, preferring instead to inter their dead wherever they lived. In the winter, they buried their dead in spirit homes above the earth, and even built scaffolds to house them. In all other seasons they were buried in shallow graves in front of the family wigwams, and later houses. At Ponemah, that remains the custom today, although scaffolds have been abandoned now in favor of ground burials, even in winter.¹⁷

The White Sand Dunes is a sacred place. Bald eagles nest in the trees along the shore and feed in large numbers on smaller fish forced into the shallows by wave action. The dunes are exposed to the wind and water, and bird, water, and animal life of all kinds abounds. So do powerful spirits. People do water ceremonies here in the spring and fall, make offerings, pray, and come searching for answers. There are platforms in the trees all along the lakeshore where young men and women come to fast, giving up food and water for up to four days to seek visions—spiritual awakenings to help them heal, teach, and lead. Some come away with medicine, Indian names to give to others, authority to run sweat-lodge ceremonies, or new songs.

Political, military, social, and religious leaders at Red Lake have always been guided by spiritual practice. From the Battle River fight to the present, meetings of peace and war, endeavors of hunting and harvest, and all of Red Lake’s political councils have always begun with a pipe ceremony. Tribal chairmen at Red Lake customarily introduce themselves with their clans and the native names obtained from dreams or visions while fasting. In 1827, Thomas L. McKenney wrote, [They] live, and die, confirmed in the belief that they are acting the part which the dream, or some other impression, pointed out to them as indispensable. At Red Lake, that tradition has never died.¹⁸

Red Lakers often say that they fiercely embrace one of the most libertarian cultures in the world. If someone has a vision while fasting, he or she could use that vision to give people their Indian names. If someone dreamed about a hand drum with a blue circle and cedar sticks tied inside of it, the person would make that drum. If someone dreamed about songs for a ceremony, he or she would bring those songs to that ceremony. If a Dakota boy was adopted into the Ojibwe community and his clan was kingfisher, everyone accepted it. The people were free and empowered. Red Lake was spiritually vibrant. New ceremonies and new ways of doing old ceremonies were born and reborn at the White Sand Dunes many times. That freedom was the heart of Red Lake’s libertarianism—broad-minded, open, and growing. This dynamic explains why one family did its first animal-kill feast (oshkinitaagewin) one way, while two hundred yards away another family did it just a little bit differently. Both families were right. There was no rulebook, bible, or institution to shape such decisions. Creating formal social and ceremonial positions was avoided. People were guided by spiritual processes more than by ancient rules.¹⁹

The spiritual freedom enjoyed at Red Lake had its frustrations. If someone dreamed about doing a ceremony a certain way, nobody was obligated to attend. In fact, although people were not apt to judge their neighbors for their unique ways of doing things, they were also unlikely to abandon their own. And they would never tolerate someone else trying to impose a cultural idea or practice on others. Time and again, Red Lakers struggled to lead when presenting new and revolutionary ideas—whether around spirituality, war, or politics. The idea or the vision wasn’t rejected, but people could rarely tolerate its being implemented.

When Red Lakers were expanding their domain, it was easy to accommodate divergent social, political, and cultural ideas. People just packed up and moved to a new part of the expanding territory where there was nobody to question the legitimacy of the ideas or their leaders. But when the treaty period began, land loss froze the freedom to expand. Culture did not change overnight, but the physical space had helped create the cultural space, and both were increasingly confined. Now when people had different ways of doing things, they had to tolerate and even accommodate one another.

Compounding the tension this cultural dynamic created was the fact that Red Lake, being on the western frontier of Ojibwe country, was dominated by Ojibwe people from farther east who had the greatest motivation to move. That motivation often emerged from this same cultural process farther east—people with new ideas moved west to get the space they needed to carry out new visions. This is part of what made Red Lake so vibrant and innovative, so full of new ideas and new visions, yet at the same time so resistant to picking up other people’s visions. Red Lake was also dominated by warriors—anyone who told them what to do was in for a fight.

The cultural process was not gender-specific. Women and men both innovated, fasted, dreamed, and led. Clans and chieftainship at Red Lake were patrilineal, but society was matrilocal. Women owned the family dwelling and had great authority in marriage and divorce, even more so than in eastern parts of Ojibwe country. In ceremonies, both men and women played important leadership roles. Women and men often sat on opposite sides of ceremonial lodges to symbolically reinforce the understanding that men and women had equal voice in rituals.²⁰

Women at Red Lake controlled the most important endeavor of the people there: they ran the economy. Groundbreaking scholarship by Brenda Child has illuminated and deepened our understanding of the role of women in Ojibwe economies, especially at Red Lake. Women dominated the economic activity of Ojibwe communities by producing most of the food, clothes, and lodges, and tanning most of the furs for trade. They also did most of the wild rice harvesting, gathering of berries, drying and storing of meat, and maple sugar harvesting, although there was no gender taboo for anyone who participated, and whole families engaged in all such activities.²¹

The gendered division of labor at Red Lake meant that families functioned best with both men and women, which put economic pressure on the marriage structure. There were fewer men at Red Lake because many died in warfare, arduous travel, and fishing on dangerously thin ice or rough water. As a result, Red Lake, like many Ojibwe communities, embraced polygamy through the 1800s. Polygamy evolved out of need, but persisted after the need began to dissipate. Men sometimes had more than one wife, but women could not have more than one husband. As mortality rates declined for men at Red Lake, women rejected the practice of polygamy. Their power to do so shows that polygamy was more about economic family structure than about sexual power. Assimilation pressure from missionaries and government officials surely played a role in influencing Ojibwe perceptions of family, but polygamy was abandoned in Ponemah (where nobody converted to Christianity) at the same time that it was abandoned in Redby, Red Lake, and Little Rock (where most people converted).²²

When Red Lake was attacked, both men and women defended themselves. Men usually pursued war away from home, but not exclusively. Chiefs were usually men, but women often exerted leadership influence. Over time, women at Red Lake grew their authority in many realms. Fannie Johns and Susan Hallett each in turn became village matriarchs and history keepers. Anna Gibbs broke through gender barriers and became the most widely respected spiritual leader in Ponemah.²³

Because Red Lake was so fiercely libertarian, because people had their own deep sense of personal spiritual empowerment and agency, because the people were so resistant to being told what to do, leading was a challenge. People loved their freedom so much that they required consensus to engage in joint political action, rather than anyone having to suffer the imposition of someone else’s will. Red Lake was so spiritually vibrant and innovative that there was great diversity in local customs. Consensus was expected but hard to achieve. But on rare and special occasions, when someone had a truly compelling spiritual vision, it motivated broad and sometimes permanent change. The people who brought such visions forward had great influence, and their leadership prevailed across generations.

King Bird (Ogimaa-bines), who was a spiritual leader in the Battle River area near the White Sand Dunes, was given the gift of song. His vision was so powerful that he reshaped Ojibwe music across the region and his descendants (the large Kingbird family of Red Lake) remain one of the most musically gifted families in the region today. They inherit his spiritual gift, and they embrace it, sitting boys at the drum or on their fathers’ laps to learn Ojibwe music from the age of four. Many of Red Lake’s most prominent political and spiritual leaders built their influence through this same spiritual process, in this same spiritual place—Anna Gibbs, Thomas Stillday Jr., Dan Raincloud, Nodin Wind, and many more.

From the arrival of the first Ojibwe in Red Lake around 1760 to the present, the key to leadership in social, political, and military matters has always been influence, and influence had to be earned. Leadership was not limited to men and it did not happen in great halls of power, through legislation, or by leading armies into battle. It happened at the White Sand Dunes.

Red Lake Warrior Politics

There was something in the water at Red Lake, a genuine spiritual force that bonded people to that place and empowered them with a fearless sense of potential. Because seemingly nothing could stop them and nobody outside or inside their communities could tell anybody else what to do, people were inherently resistant to following. In this unique cultural environment, people were forced to build and sharpen certain skills: toughness, resilience, adaptation, and collaboration. The land and people shaped chiefs of remarkable ability to innovate and adapt to new political environments without allowing their own to be assimilated. Those leaders reshaped Red Lake’s political culture over and over—connected and identifiable to their ancestors, but new and forward thinking at the same time.

During the first hundred years of Ojibwe settlement at Red Lake, the Ojibwe became one of the most numerous tribes in North America and built hundreds of primary villages from Quebec to Montana and from Illinois to northern Manitoba. The Ojibwe people did not function as one nation politically in spite of sharing many key aspects of language and culture. Within the Red Lake region there were networks of shared political and military communication, but each village was independent. There was no head chief, king, or other top official; rather, there were numerous chiefs from many distinct villages. Even neighboring places like Ponemah had different chiefs than nearby Battle River, Miquam Bay, and Ponemah Point. Nobody was chief of them all.

Ojibwe leadership dynamics were changing before the Ojibwe came to Red Lake, but its settlement was the catalyst for even more profound cultural changes in leadership. Because clan designation did not restrict chieftainship at Red Lake and new villages were being established not just along the lakeshore but throughout northwestern Minnesota, new leaders and new lines of chieftainship were out of necessity being established throughout the late 1700s and early 1800s.

As had been the custom throughout Ojibwe country, if there was a major political disagreement, one group often moved down the river or along the lakeshore and established a new village—but changes accelerated in Red Lake. New villages and chiefs emerged at Warroad, Blackduck, Warren, Red Lake River, Clearwater River, Sandy River, the north shore of Upper Red Lake, and throughout the region. For generations, anyone who exerted too much control got left behind in Michigan, Wisconsin, or eastern Ontario, and the same thing happened at Red Lake as well, as people left again to establish new villages at Turtle Mountain, Roseau River, and elsewhere.

Red Lake was home to warriors who believed in personal agency and self-directed power. To the people there, that was a sign of strength, and it spoke to the power of the people rather than the power of chiefs. At Red Lake, chiefs did not speak for all the people, and village chiefs never spoke for people outside of their respective villages. But French, British, and American officials always expected them to do so. That made for awkward diplomacy between Red Lake leaders and white folk. It also strained intratribal relations and politics. This caused trouble enough during the fur trade era, but when American officials wanted Red Lake chiefs to permit land cessions, it became painful.

Even though each village was independent, American officials grouped all Indians throughout the Red Lake region together and considered them a single band. This was a Euro-American construct, not an indigenous one. Calling the Ojibwe living in villages on the shores of Upper Red Lake, Lower Red Lake, the Red Lake River, the Thief River, and Lake of the Woods the Red Lake Band did not make them a unified political group. The idea of collective political or cultural identity emerged later, and even today is contested by many Red Lake Ojibwe.²⁴

The chiefs of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa (as the Americans called them) never made decisions about politics, economics, or warfare as a united group before the American government tried to convince them to sell their lands at the Old Crossing Treaty in 1863. From then on, although many people at Red Lake took issue with anyone speaking on behalf of people who did not live in a particular chief’s village, the representative nature of Red Lake’s tribal politics increased.

Decision making often took a long time at Red Lake because the political culture made chiefs humble and reluctant to speak on someone else’s behalf. The process was grassroots, cooperative, and consensus-oriented. Political

Hai raggiunto la fine di questa anteprima. Registrati per continuare a leggere!
Pagina 1 di 1


Cosa pensano gli utenti di Warrior Nation

0 valutazioni / 0 Recensioni
Cosa ne pensi?
Valutazione: 0 su 5 stelle

Recensioni dei lettori